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The long and happy road to the World Cup - via Charlton

Wednesday 04 December 2013 03:21
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Many have been the foreign mercenaries who, after being welcomed to English clubs as saviours, have departed acrimoniously, cursed as robber barons. Jorge Costa's move from Porto to Charlton Athletic on loan last autumn could have ended up as one such fiasco; a 30-year-old past his best seeking a transfer to revive an international career at a club he had probably never heard of, on the highest wages they had ever paid.

To the Portuguese defender's immense credit, there was a happier ending, with supporters, team-mates and coaches slapping his back and wishing him well after playing their part in the rehabilitation that will see him restored to his national and club team. For five months, Costa has done exactly what was asked, bringing experience, authority and physical presence to a young defence, while honing his own blunted game again in a weekly battle with the best forwards in the Premiership.

"We've both won," said Charlton's manager, Alan Curbishley. "The plan was always that he'd come and help us, because we had problems with injuries, and we'd help him try to get back into the Portugal side. He had problems at Porto and needed to be playing regularly." The lack of a transfer window round most of Europe at the time meant that Britain was one of few possible destinations, and having watched Costa perform with his customary solidity at Euro 2000, Curbishley was happy to pursue the sort of player that Charlton normally eschew, preferring to sign young Englishmen with sell-on value.

Despite taking on a daunting schedule of (literally) flying visits home to see his new baby, Costa settled remarkably well, and by February had again caught the eye of Portugal's coach, Antonio Oliveira; summoned to face the old enemy, Spain, in Barcelona, he even scored a rare goal in a 1-1 draw. That game might just have been a preview of the World Cup quarter-final. If there are doubts about the Portuguese, they are the same old ones – are the "golden generation" of Luis Figo, Rui Costa and company now on the wrong side of the hill?

In the Premiership, Costa's old head compensated for a lack of pace in his old legs. At the highest level, he might just be found out.

But south-east London has enjoyed having him as much as he enjoyed being there. As Curbishley says: "He's brought us stability and quality and he goes back with all our best wishes." Steve Tongue

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